Dover, Sunday: girls, champers and guns

“When the King’s messenger came there, they gave 3d in winter and 2d in summer for horse passage. The burgesses found a steersman and 1 other assistant. If there was more labour it was hired with his own money.”

From the Doomsday Survey, 1086

Dover has been around a long time. Many of the stories can be found here. And here. When its name comes up in immigration scare stories on Google Alert – which is often – it is worth considering who exactly was looking out on the civilized Romans who bowled up here two thousand years ago; proto stag-party in Prague fodder, I suspect. If the Romans were lucky. The Romans left excellent remains here, built the first fortress, and there’s a museum in the town now, after a planned car-park threw up great excavations. And with global warming as it is, the Kentish vineyards will soon be as good as they were in 44AD.

Just over 400 years ago, in 1606, a Royal Charter brought the ‘Dover Harbour Board’ into being, comprising of eleven commissioners. The chairman was also Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. Shipyards came in the 18th century.

Wars against France (Napoleon) were organized from here, but today I am interested only in the Second World War; and in particular a solitary image. Buried beneath the White Cliffs, and accessed via tunnels now part of English Heritage’s Dover Castle complex, is the HQ of Britain’s border battle with Nazi Germany, a labyrinth of underground tunnels and cavernous rooms where soldiers, doctors, sailors and nurses, plotted first the withdraw that is “Dunkirk” , the “Battle of Britain” in the skies, and later the D-Day invasions of 1944.

These days there is a marvellous guided tour of the tunnels, with audio actors playing out an emergency surgery for a downed fighter pilot. At the entrance it is possible to look out to France. In the spring and summer of 1940 Winston Churchill often did this; champagne glass in hand. Sometimes he was accompanied by the first of the enigmatic women who fleck this trip, his new young daughter-in-law Pamela, who had recently accepted the proposal of Winston’s son, Randolph, on their second date in London. Randolph had proposed to several women that spring.

Winston’s spy…

Churchill in the Jamaica Gleaner news, this week.

Pamela – who we know as Pamela Harriman, and was (amongst many things) Bill Clinton’s Ambassador in Paris – had quickly become a great asset to Churchill as her “proximity” to several very important Americans and journalists in London made her at 20, an English rosy-cheeked version Martha Hari.

She was born Pamela Beryl Digby in Farnborough, Hampshire. But she saw more of the world than most Hampshire debs, then and now: Pamela, her men, and possibly even a philosopher or two, return in Paris.

Thus much of Dover.

About robhunt510

Writer, artist
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